It barely seems as though it’s been that long, but synthesis pioneer Robert Moog died six years ago this week. That has brought a whole new wave of remembrances, including a great new EP you can remix. And if you still don’t know what the fuss is about, or want to refer a friend somewhere other than Wikipedia, a guest essay popped into our inbox here at CDM HQ, so I’ll add that, too.
The best news, from where I sit: Tara Busch has donated a three-track EP entitled The Rocket Wife to the cause of bettering the Bob Moog Foundation’s work in history, archiving, and education. You may know Tara as the writer behind AnalogSuicide, or from her synthesist/vocalist career. Regardless, give this EP a listen. It’s a fanciful, dreamily optimistic album, recalling grand pop songwriting traditions. “Motor Crash” channels another Bush (Kate) in a very good way over its all-too-brief yet oddly satisfying minute and a half amuse-bouche. (Amuse-Busch?) “Calendura” is a gliding waltz set to angular, sparse percussion. But “Rocket Wife” is my favorite, a wonderland soundscape that sounds like some sunlight of the two afternoon suns on your foreign planet streamed right into a rack of Moogs in the studio of your dreams.
And, anyway, if you think you can do better with these raw materials, you can try to prove it. 17 tracks of stems are available for purchase, too, also as a benefit. Grab them, give them a remix, and winners will receive prizes like Bob Moog merch and a collaboration with Tara. You’ve got until October 15 to make it happen.
SoundCloud-based Contest Submissions [great idea!]
What else is new in the world of Bob Moog’s legacy?
Here’s a beautifully-shot video about what’s now called Dr. Bob’s Sound School. It’s just this kind of engineering-rich effort I think we need now in the US and worldwide to restart the economy, though that’s perhaps a story for another post.
Finally, writer Jennifer Helfrich sent us an unsolicited bio essay on Bob Moog. I was delighted to see it show up in my inbox, and it has the Bob Moog Foundation’s technical editing applied to it, so here it is – a great introduction to Bob Moog’s life.
Side editorial: I think it’s notable that Dr. Moog was a product of New York public education, beginning his educational journey at Bronx High School of Science and receiving his first BA – in physics, initially, not electrical engineering until later – at Queens College of The City University of New York. (Disclosure: I’m a PhD Candidate at CUNY’s Graduate Center.) It shows the power of public education to help support the people who innovate — just at a time when, in many places int he world, public education can be targeted for cuts.
Here’s Jennifer’s nicely-compact story:
Robert Moog is the godfather of modern electronic music, the man whose genius and passion made synthesizers accessible and put electronic sound generation on the musical map. This past Sunday, the 21st, was the six year anniversary of Bob Moog’s passing. Let us take a moment to remember his life and his legacy.
A New York native, he was born in 1934 to a mother who taught him piano and a father who puttered with house-hold electronics. Moog showed exceptional intelligence from an early age. He built a simple Theremin on his own at 14, and the experience made music his focus. At the tender age of 19 Moog founded R.A. Moog Co. to manufacture and sell Theremin kits. The business, begun at such an early age, exemplifies Moog’s incredible productive capacity and perhaps even a desire to share the joy he found in building his own.
During his bachelor and Ph.D. studies Moog began to develop his version of the synthesizer. Electronic synthesizers commercially available at the time were made of vacuum tubes and magnetic tape – they were huge, difficult to set-up, and often had to be custom made. With the 1964 presentation of his synthesizer Moog ushered in a new era of electronic music. Smaller and easier to use, with multiple modules for modifying voltage controlled oscillations and an organ-keyboard interface, the Moog synthesizer was ready for the music studio. Moog synthesizers hit the big-time with the success of the 1967 Wendy Carlos album Switched-On Bach. It was among the first classical albums to sell half-million copies, it hit the Top 10 and stayed in the Top 40 for 17 weeks.
As Moog synthesizers improved throughout the 60s and 70s they were featured in numerous albums by a wide variety of artists. Moog’s synthesizer helped shape disco; it showed up in the Beatles, the Doors, and the Monkees; both Stevie Wonder and Tangerine Dream loved the Moog synthesizer; it made appearances in genres from country to rock to jazz.
R.A. Moog Co. began to produce the Minimoog (Model D) in 1970 – an extremely popular smaller version of the synthesizer that was better suited to live performances. But the 60s had bankrupt Moog as other producers with larger factories outstripped his namesake firm. Moog sold the company and rights to the Moog name in 1972. Five years later Moog left the company, now Moog Music, frustrated with weak marketing and bad management. For the next 30 years he continued to develop and produce analog and digital tools for synthesizers, but during the time he could not produce under his own name Moog made no new instruments. Until, in 2002, he won back the rights to produce under his own name and returned to Moog Music. He designed and improved instruments at Moog Music until his death three years later in 2005.
The Moog legacy is a powerful inspiration for innovation in electronic music. His life was dedicated to the creation of quality analog and digital sounds composed in beautiful, interesting, and instructive ways. His understanding and appreciation of sound manipulation and the joys it can bring are carried on by the Bob Moog Foundation. His daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa, as the Director, remembers her father as a quiet, introspective, cool, quirky, funny guy with a rambunctious laugh who loved to teach. The Foundation teaches science through music, has a Grammy recognized archive of the Moog legacy, and plans to build a museum. They recently released Mooged Out Asheville, Volume 2, an album exemplifying the many ways Moog changed music with songs spanning far-flung genres from hip-hop to avant electronica, from dub-step to rock. To learn more about Bob Moog and how his life still touches ours, visit http://www.moogfoundation.org/.
By the way, since this tends to come up – CDM welcomes suggestions for innovators you’d like us to cover. The Bob Moog Foundation archives alone cover lots of early designers, inventors, composers, and musicians, not only Dr. Moog himself. If you’ve got an idea, let us know.
Watch for, at long last, a series remembering the history of Max Mathews shortly — I’ve been editing it. It’s great the assemblage of people who helped build the tools we use.